Different Church, Same Pew!

To not quote George W. Bush… “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” And that, as you shall see, I learned the hard way.

As soon as he pulled up a stool at the bar I got this strange feeling I’d seen him before. I didn’t know where and I didn’t know when but a past came along with this customer I couldn’t put my finger on. It’s a vibe you sometimes get in this business where even though you don’t know the face you know the person. And it’s usually a bad thing.

But this face seemed somewhat older than I’d known it, puffy it appeared from booze, even his hands were swollen to the point of no knuckles. Not a good sign. He’d apparently stepped up his drinking since the days when I’d known him. But did I know him, was the question, or was I mistaken? Then he opened his mouth.

“Jack Daniels on the rocks,” he said, rolling in an Irish accent, and that’s when the face I had known emerged from the bloat.

“Excuse me,” I said, “but isn’t your name Billy? And didn’t you used to drink at a place called (anonymous)?”

He lit up. “Why yes, yes I did,” he said smiling.

“Well I used to be the bartender there, do you remember me?”

He stared for a moment, scrunching up his brow, til the light came into his eyes announcing recognition. “Ooooh, yes I do,” he brogued, “sure as hell I remember ya’. How’ve ya’ been there, man, it’s been a good while.”

“It has been a while,” I said, “a good ten years now. I’ve been fine and you?”

“A-h-h-h, no complaints over here… still rollin’, still goin’, a little o’ this and that, you know how it goes.”

“I do know how it goes,” I said, “and I know how it went too. I had to bar you from the other place, do you remember that?”

The light left his eyes and a cloud rolled across his brow. “Er-ah, yeah, geez, I do seem to remember something like that. I do. Yeah, yeah, I do remember that now, I do. It seems we had a bit of a problem one night.”

“No, Billy,” I said, “we had a problem over many nights. Which begs the question now, have you changed at all?”

“Ah, not to worry,” he said, extending his hand to shake mine. “I’m clean now. No problems a’tall, no problems a’tall.” (“Clean? Isn’t that a drug term? He wasn’t someone I remember as being on drugs”)

“Well I hope you’ve changed,” I said, shaking his hand. That swollen hand.

Then against my better judgement, I poured him a Jack on the rocks and set it in front of him.

Now first off I should tell you that this guy is far from a dope. He’s friendly as hell, charming as hell, has a big job over at the U.N., and can talk on most any subject with knowledge and assurance. Sadly endlessly, which is why he gets into trouble and is shown the the door. (He can’t stop talking with knowledge and fucking assurance!) He’ll work his way into people’s conversations, buying a round as entree, then bore right into their night like a drill through balsa. To the point where their eyes start rolling and I have to step in. Like I did that last time I saw him those ten long years ago.

He’d cornered these two tourist ladies after trying to buy them a drink, and barraged them for twenty straight minutes with an onslaught of bullshit. Which they didn’t want to hear. Until finally, seeing no relief, they called for their check.

“I’m terribly sorry,” I said to the ladies, handing them their tab as requested, “I’m sorry you had to put up…”

“How dare you apologize for me,” Billy jumped, shouting across the bar, “no one, but no one apologizes for me!”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Billy, especially when you’re too damn rude to do it for yourself.”

“Why this is a bloody outrage!” he shouted, comically mirroring a Wodehouse character suddenly refused his membership into The Drones Club. “How dare you not take my part, this is an outrage!”

“No, you’re the outrage,” I said, “and you’ve also had your very last drink in this bar. That’s it, Billy!” Then I rang up his tab and slammed it on the bar in front of him.

Shocked and crestfallen, he lowered his voice and tried the financial approach. “Ah, let’s not get hasty,” he whispered, “do ya’ know how much business you’ll lose if ya’ bar me? Do you realize how much I spend and how much I tip, mate? This is not smart business.”

“I’m aware of the money you spend and the price isn’t worth it. Not by a long shot. You’ve done this too many times in the past and having a peaceful bar means more than your money. No, Billy, I’m sorry but you’re done here.” And he was. Until ten years later when I got him again in this bar.

Now had he changed, like he said, and did he behave himself? Just ask the lovely young couple who was sitting next to him…

Acting just fine through his first Jack Daniels, enjoying the music and pretty much keeping to himself, the old Billy quickly emerged in the middle of his second. With bells on. And I wanted to kick my own ass for being so naive. I’ve been in this business way too long to not know that people can’t change who they are when they drink, so why did I fall for this? People who drink a lot and often, and Billy certainly qualifies, are never who they are when sober and that’s just a fact. This whole other person arrives on the scene who in some cases shows up morose, sometimes mean and belligerent, sometimes witty and charming and fun, while other times simply an ass, but never does this other self not show up while drinking. And Billy’s other self, for the record, is all of those people.

So after leaning into this happy young couple who’d been there for a good two hours and truly enjoying each other, Billy opened up with a chat about God knows what. I was too busy and too far away to hear them. But I wasn’t too busy to see their faces and how they reacted to his blarney, and what started out as a friendly conversation with smiles and nods all around (I told you he could be charming), gradually devolved into frowns and attempts at ignoring him. Then raised voices. Til the man finally raised his hand and called for his check.

“Is everything okay over here?” I said to the man before I wrote up his check. Meaning, I didn’t want them leaving on Billy’s account, I’d throw Billy out in a second if that was the case. But I was too late.

“Yeah,” the man said resignedly, “we’re all fine here. But I’ll take my check just the same, Sir, if you please.” Yes Billy had struck again, dammit, again after ten long years, just like he had with those tourists ladies back when I barred him. And I felt responsible.

So I also made out Billy’s check, told him he’d had enough, and that I’d seen enough of his act to prevent any future visits. I barred him again. But aside from him ruining this couple’s evening and obviously far more important, the real sorry point in a story like this and what I find hard about this business, is watching a guy like Billy throw away his life. A life that is gifted with all that talent and smarts. Plus his physical appearance is shot to hell (he can’t be much more than forty), and his demons still rule the day when he takes to the drink. Which, judging by his swollen hands, he takes to a lot.

But hey, this is the business I’ve chosen (right?) and these are the sights in Barland. Cardiologists deal with hearts, psychiatrists deal with dreams, maybe in dealing with a person like Billy I’m dealing with a broken heart or an unfulfilled dream. Who knows?

See you next week-end with hopefully a more upbeat topic.

15 Responses to “Different Church, Same Pew!”

  1. 1 MikeQ January 28, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    Great story, Scrib! On a break here (the club won’t get busy for another hour), and I really enjoyed the read. Great stuff. Perfect title.

  2. 2 scribbler50 January 28, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    MikeQ: Thanks, man, hope you have a good night up there in Beantown. (And don’t have to deal with anything like what I wrote about.)
    Cheers, pal!

  3. 3 Marty Wombacher January 29, 2012 at 10:30 am

    Bartenders have to deal with the good the bad and the ugly on a nightly basis. Billy definitely sounds like the latter two, sorry you had to experience him again! Being a late arrival here at your blog, I’m enjoying the archives, Scribbler, wonderful tales and wonderfully written!

  4. 4 scribbler50 January 29, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Marty: Glad you’re enjoying the Archives, pal, thanks for the kind words. (There’ll be a quiz the next time you come in the bar!)

  5. 5 Comrade PhysioProf January 29, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    Very interesting post, holmes. To be honest, it hadn’t occurred to me that someone could get barred for being a boring intrusive douchebagge. I always assumed it required something more, like active belligerence or violence.

  6. 6 scribbler50 January 29, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    Comrade: We’re talkin’ multiple offenses, Watson, many of which had an effect on other people’s evenings. You’ve got to be mindful of the overall good and a “Category Four” is too much hot air for the room!

  7. 7 BBBShrewHarpy January 29, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    Why do they always have to have an Irish accent 😦

  8. 8 scribbler50 January 29, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    BBBShrewHarpy: Sorry about that, if indeed you’re Irish, but believe me the blarney comes in many accents. So :)!

  9. 9 IrishIrritant January 30, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Just to cover my bases…You’ll get none of that from me!
    The “Irish Chip”, you covered the topic well, thankfully my son did something about it. Grand young man. Thanks again Scrib, well done.

  10. 10 Patsy January 30, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    Hey Scrib!
    Don’t beat yourself up too hard for giving a fellow human being a second chance and be thankful that it only took you 2 times to learn this lesson whereas alas poor Billy seems destined to be a remedial student for life…
    Fantastically told as always!

    Oh & Happy New Year as this is my first comment of 2012

  11. 11 scribbler50 January 30, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    Irish: Sorry but I don’t quite understand your comment. Especially the last part.

    Patsy: Nah, I’m not beating myself up, just pissed that it happened because this couple was having such a nice time. And on a happier note, a belated happy new year to you as well.

  12. 12 Anonymoustache February 7, 2012 at 7:22 am

    Amazing how people don’t ask such intrusive gasbags to f*ck off more often….or maybe they try and just can’t get thru…

  13. 13 scribbler50 February 7, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Anonymoustache: Most people are polite, which is foreign to the typical gasbag, so they put up with it. Amazingly.

  14. 14 Pieter B February 9, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Ah, Scrib, such are the trials, but y’knew the job was dangerous when you took it. I used to wish that I could mark some folks’ foreheads “Instant asshole – just add alcohol” with ink that only others could see.

    In my springtime weekend job at the RenFaire, I’ve cut people off who haven’t had a drink since the previous day, on the principle that their attitude stinks and alcohol is not likely to improve it. And when I do that, my manager will back me up. Mayhap they’ll learn something on the dusty walk to the next alestand.

  15. 15 scribbler50 February 9, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Pieter B: Great comment and thanks! I especially like the forehead message, “Instant asshole – just add alcohol,” that’s prefect. As well as “the dusty walk to the next ale stand”. A bit of poetry there.

    But as you say, such are the trials, right? Or as a colleague of mine who’s passed away used to say, “Hey, whaddaya’ expect, we’re not serving holy water, ya’ know!”

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